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Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Plenty of fairy floss but not much substance
Can you use the prism of film criticism on a unicorn like the conclusion of a 22 film arc, two parter superhero extravaganza?
But even comparing it with other Marvel films or even Infinity War, this is an indulgent party which overstays its welcome. Like a constant rush of sugar, and some of those sugar highs are gloriously fun, at the end you are ready to say "Goodbye" and eager for something of substance.
The major issue is that once time manipulation is introduced, then any existential threat is reversible.
The first hour is ploddingly slow, the cast are good but boy they look tired and Capt. Marvel goes close to stealing the film.
Despite that any film lover will have to see this...an event rather then cinema.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Subversive film that packs in plenty of superhero fun
Captain Marvel is on first blush a reasonable addition to the MCU but the more you scratch away at the veneer and this film starts to show a much more radical, and way more interesting, thematic structure which more reflects Boden and Fleck's indie background then Disney's usual universe.
Ambitiously, it tries to give both an origin story for Capt Marvel AND Nick Fury while using memory jumps to reveal that origin story to Carol Danvers in real time. Things get understandably bumpy in a torturous beginning as they set the table so the exposition can fall in place.
Luckily, once the first act is over it doesn't matter much because the charismatic cast do their thing and any missteps are layered over by Larson, Jackson and Mendelsohn (Ok and Goose) even if it some of it seems forced. Ironically, the greatest weakness is the action - the directors just don't seem that interested and want to get back to the story.
So why is this film going to be studied decades from now. It might be the best film since the original Gaslighting in exploring how women are told to keep their power in check, to not be emotional by male mentors only to find perhaps there is another way forward. This is where the film sings in defining the difference between Power and Empowerment. One single montage of a girl becoming a woman told to slow down and not take chances in 8 frames is brilliant storytelling.
On top of that the reversal of the Kree/Skrull power relationship so that we flip our sympathies to the dispossessed again speaks more to 2019 then 1990's.
If you left this film and didn't want to get in the queue for Avengers: Endgame, I don't know what I can do for you....
Aggressively average and that may be worse then being bad
This is so disappointing. Not because it is bad, it is actually an average thriller with some good to bad performances.
The problem is Unbreakable was so different and great in exploring the superhero mythos that when mixed with The Horde from Split, you really felt that M. Night was building to something truly awe inspiring.
Turgid exposition, a catatonic Glass, Sarah Paulson looks like she is straight out of an AHS episode and when it finally builds to the third act and it will all come together - nothing. Worse then nothing as the chaos bounces.
Have to watch for people who saw the first two but anyone else avoid at all costs.
A memory stright to the brain but will be challenging for some
This will be for many people a type of black and white film they have never experienced. Shot with all the modern digital tools but evoking the neo realists after WWII, this film is like a sheet of transparency held up to the sun: like a memory being intravenously shot into your cortex.
Cuaron has been very open in stating this is essentially an autobiographical snapshot of his childhood growing up in Colonial Roma, a neighbourhood in Mexico City but it is also a clear nod to Fellini's Roma and the other neo realists especially Bunuel. Though Curaon's memories, the film is about Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio,
the maid to the middle class family he grew up in.
The film thematically matches very well with 2018. No matter your colour, class, nationality - men are assholes and it is left up to the women to band together and weather life.
My issue was that Cleo seems underdeveloped for the main character of a film, passive both in the film and life, which I assume is a result of this being Cuaron's story in many ways and not hers. This is shown in the way Cuaron shoots - nary a closeup but wide frame, camera panning or sliding more typical of a documentary. This all keeps the viewer at a distance.
Cuaron has made a masterpiece but it is called Children of Men.
A Star Is Born (2018)
Cooper and Gaga both make stunning debuts
Lets add up the challenges - film has been done three times before, when you are born the plot is downloaded into your brain, Brad Cooper has never directed, Lady Gaga never been the lead in a film, lets mix melodrama with a concert film so not only does the music have to be great so does anything to do with the relationship and any misstep, the whole illusion will collapse.
I state this because the film has issues but it a goddamned miracle this was made let alone that it is great. Finally, when people complain about Hollywood not making films for "everyone" (yep, I have no idea either) you just point them to this film (and soon after First Man)
Both the leads are outstanding - believable, charming, as good at acting as they are singing, does Cooper play that guitar, y'know what I don't want to know. The whole film rests on a precipice: the audience must buy the love and the chemistry..both Gaga and Cooper deliver in spades.
The ensemble is very good. Elliott steals nearly every scene especially the one in the truck cabin and Andrew Dice Clay is so good he does the opposite, I forgot who he used to be.
The film certainly has first time directing issues. Cooper is so in love with his material he can't cut anything which leads to a real loss of momentum in the second act after an almost flawless first 40 minutes.
The camera sits in close a bit much and Cooper does not like going wide which can get claustrophobic.
The ultimate trick is changing the screenplay from being about jealousy to one about artistic authenticity and getting your idiosyncratic message to the world by making the same film for the fourth time...yet it works.
First Man (2018)
First Man - traditional biopic with amazing last half hour
So here is the problem, that's a bit negative, lets say issue. Chazelle has made two films: one is the biopic which runs for just under two hours and then one of the greatest half hours in the last decade as he blows through every stop sign, giving us the most cinematic moon landing thus rendered.
Gosling is very good as a really boring man: he has enough charisma to make that work which then allows Claire Foy to steal the entire film with every steely raise of her eyebrow. Her eyes must get paid extra as she does with one steely glance what the rest of the cast do in a three page monologue. The ensemble is nothing short of amazing with shoutouts to perennials like Kyle Chandler and Corey Stoll.
The structure is so throughline it is transported from the 50's. The pacing is glacial especially in the second act. Yet....yet every time Chazelle locks the viewer down in the most subjective astronaut scenes, the heart rate escalates. This is helped enormously by the score, especially sound editing - this is a righteously NOISY film, that puts you on top of a rocket with every sense.
The film is almost a love letter to a different type of America - a different type of heroic masculinity. One in which humility and expertise were admired and where a showboat might get you killed.
Tom Cruise: sinew and star hunger powers the best action film of the year
This is an action film which goes for 2 and a half hours. It makes no sense at all. It borders on ludicrous as evidenced by the nightclub scene and yet it may be the most fun you have all year at the movies.
McQuarrie is so judicious in his direction. At all times, you know where the sight lines are, what is being framed, who is shooting who. It doesn't seem like much but married with concrete stunt work rather then CGI, the whole film seems so solid. Almost from a different era.
Then there is Tom Cruise. He is just a force of nature. Is it possible to divorce him from Ethan Hunt? The first Mission Impossible was made in 1996...22 years ago. This is more supernatural then The Mummy - basically a combination of sinew and star ambition knits his body together.
The mustache of Henry Cavill has its cameo taking the film to an 11. This is a much needed injection of testosterone to leaven the formula and you can see Cavill relish a non Superman role. However, it is again Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust who steals every scene. The rest of the ensemble are great and all do their part especially Sean Harris who I would pay to hear him malevolently read my shopping list.
Action pieces interspersed with character moments - it is all you can ask for in a summer blockbuster.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Fun sequel which allows charismatic cast to sing
Set after Civil War and just before Infinity War, Peyton Reed shows that a light touch and smaller stakes can be just as satisfying as lights in the sky and the imminent destruction of a nameless city.
Despite shoehorning in way too many sub-plots and even the overall 'villain' could have just asked for help nicely, it all doesn't matter because it is fun to see this cast muck around and blow things up and shrink them down again.
Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are great- effortless charisma machines who have actual chemistry (see Pratt and Howard for the extreme opposite in Jurassic World). On top of that at every turn you have great actors whether it be the old firm with Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer as the first generation of SHIELD scientists or Randall Park and Walton Goggins making otherwise bit parts sing. And then there is Michael Pena as Luis. He is so ridiculously charming and funny that the best scene in the entire special effect laden film is just him telling a story with help from the rest of the cast.
So despite structural issues and in many ways not even a plot, the characters are so well defined and so fun that the film ends up being a solid entertainment delivery system.
Whatever Paul Rudd is being paid - double it.
Does the impossible -makes dinosaurs boring
I hated Jurassic World (2015). It had a level of spite which made the film leave a terrible taste. But you know what -it was not boring.
Imagine a filmic task: here is a few hundred million, pick of actors and big CGI budget. Now make a film about dinosaurs BUT make it boring. You would have thought that this was Sisyphean task, impossible even but then I give you Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Instead of one film, Bayonara has made four: Aliens, The Impossible, The Orphanage and Jurassic Park. Like a victim of the Alien Queen, the progeny has fed till the host is just a husk.
The acting is so average. There is no chemistry at all between Pratt and Howard and if I hadn't just seen Avengers, you would think Pratt had lost all his filmic charisma. The ensemble struggles along as best they can.
Oh yeah, by the way who builds a billion dollar tourist park on a volcano? Just saying....
Supernatural melodrama has you thinking way after the ending
This is not a scary film.
It is a dreadful film in the full sense of the word. You are more disturbed and on edge hours after the film has ended then while watching (Ok until the third act)
This is because at first viewing it is not entirely clear what you just watched. Then you put the puzzle pieces together just like Annie building one of her dioramas. When the scales fall from your eyes and the enormity of the evil - real lust for power - at the cost of all, that you really see what just happened.
This is a supernatural melodrama and both ends of the rope burn ever so slowly but with extreme intensity.
Aster has made as assured debut as you can as both writer and director. This is no pastiche as he charts an extremely particular vision. Aster makes the house, the lighting, the camera - malevolent bystanders to the growing comprehension of horror. Think about how many horror films you see where you actually don't care who gets killed or not. This is the antithesis of that.
How is this a cast for your first film - Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and Ann Dowd..and they are stood up by the incredible children. The haunting debutante Milly Shapiro and the star in waiting Alex Wolff.
The real horror of Hereditary is that you could remove all the supernatural content and it would still be extremely disturbing.
Fahrenheit 451 (2018)
Despite some modern shortcuts the underlying message still rings loud
The most trenchant criticism of HBO's reimagining of Fahrenheit 451 is that it might make you read the book.
Probably these reviewers have not sat through Truffaut's 66 version which resembles an episode of "The Prisoner" rather then what we see everyday in 2018.
Director Ramin Bahrani has obviously been given access to some of that Game of Thrones money because the film looks gorgeous in the way all BladeRunner 2049 films do - all flatscreen and neon. Except that flatscreens did not exist when Bradbury invented them in the original book.
The screenplay takes huge amounts of leave to retell the story which makes this a less challenging work but much easier to consume. The acting is great - all three leads are knockouts. Jordan brings his Hollywood charisma, Boutella all eyes and intrigue but as usual it is Michael Shannon who just blows everyone off the screen. On top of "Shape of Water", there is no actor who best portrays toxic conflict then Shannon. I found his descent into heretical thinking while maintaining orthodoxy absolutely compelling.
The conventional aspects of the film do take it away from the wider messages in the book as the film tries to shunt it into a structure of a modern thriller but if that allows the book to have a new audience it is worth it. It is a noble experiment even if tinged with mediocrity but its discussion of what is meaningful, what is true and the struggle against an idiocracy rings truer in 2018 then in 1953.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Traditional storytelling doesn't allow the film to fire
This is a Schrodinger's film - both simultaneously good and bad.
A simple test is this: when you watched The Last Crusade and in 4 minutes every part of Indy's lore was explained did you get almost to the point of a stroke angry or enjoyed it? If the latter then Solo will be alive for you.
I did that rare trick for me - I enjoyed the film while watching it. I ignored each cinematic sin but afterwards they rushed in and they were ominously large.
The cast is surprisingly good apart from Emilia Clarke who looks lost the entire film. Ehrenreich is done no favours with a horrific opening act but by the end of the film has got Ford's jauntiness down. Glover steals the scenery as expected but it might be Harrelson who does the most effective work bridging the film from scene to scene.
I could list all the issues but I will sum it up here: this was the chance to show why Han Solo is the cynical smuggler we meet in A New Hope and that is not achieved here. That was storytelling 101 and if you can't do that then the other travesties including that infamous naming scene are to be expected.
I can only think that The Last Jedi reaction informed just how conservative this film is...almost two hours of fan service. Beware what fandom sometimes asks for.....
Deadpool 2 (2018)
Divebombs compared to first one
You now when you are a kid or drunk or heartbroken and you indulge with a super sugar fatfest. And that first bowl is great but then the second not so much...
Something is off here and this is from a fan of the first one which I thought was both funny and well acted - great adult fare.
Tim Miller, the director of the first film, was pushed out by Ryan Reynolds who wanted to double down on the raunchy comedy. Though new director David Leitch easily handles the action, the problem is that the action soon becomes boring when there are no stakes.
Most of the cast are underwhelming which is shocking considering the talent. How can Brolin bring to life Thanos who is CGI and be so boring as a real life human. Even Julian Dennison who stole everyone's hearts in "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" cannot save the film. The only one who impresses is Zazie Beetz, who doubles down from "Atlanta" to make an impressive addition to the cast.
Essentially there is no plot. We already know the schtick and also not as original or as kinetic as the first one. There is zero suspense and one surprise was some of the worst CGI I have witnessed in a big budget film.
The best joke in the entire film is the second of two credit stingers which is pretty damning
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Great popcorn film, surprises the series with fresh takes
Well, Well, Well....
I was so ready to tear this down - 19th MCU film, too many stars, bloated CGI, first of a two parter, and so on and so on...
Yet, this is so much fun. Pure popcorn...now in the dictionary under "popcorn film" is just the poster for this film. Somehow, the Russo Brothers have juggled all the parts to give everyone some time in the sun. They are helped immensely by two things: the premise is so pure Mcguffin that you just watch Thanos look for Infinity Stones which gives a primal momentum and that the film's stars/characters are looking to move on - that means, actual stakes for once as people could really die and not just comic book dying either.
The DC people must be kicking themselves. The lightness and comedic touches are brilliant. You are laughing out loud, comedy level, but at totally organic character humour. It means you are so entertained throughout its rather long running time.
The other big surprise is Thanos himself. Normally, I hate CGI characters but somehow they have made Thanos and Josh Brolin work enough to give the character an actual arc. This is one of the better MCU villains and I never thought I would write that.
The stakes are real, the charisma levels are amazing, it is like "Oceans 28" and I can't wait for the sequel...that says an enormous amount considering the challenges this film faced.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Brilliant storytelling and unbearable tension
Show, don't tell is thundered into every director as they begin learning their craft. Add a crisp soundscape which informs as much as any visual and you have "A Quiet Place".
This is a small gem of a film which ratchets the tension from the first scene and because it has a short run time of just on 90 minutes never loosens it's grip.
There is no explanation, no ridiculous exposition. The film deposits you in present day US and posits that something horrible has happened - any sound will bring predator like creatures. From that one tenet, the film elegantly and smartly tells its story which can be built almost entirely from the visual (and sound) cues.
That John Krasinski would be one of the screenwriters, lead and director is almost more fantastical. His earlier directorial works were underwhelming (I had not seen either) and to also be the lead is a big gear shift. So stand by to be jaw droppingly surprised as this is majestic storytelling. I mean to the point Screenwriter 101 as to how to evoke mood and tell story on the screen. I was once told write a silent film and if the story works, then add dialogue and this is very close to that experiment. The rest of the cast are extremely good, Millicent Simmonds (who is deaf in real life) as the angsty teen and then the superb Emily Blunt as the mother and wife to real life husband Krasinski.
There is not much to say...anything else would ruin the experience. The sound is incredibly important so go to a dark theatre and envelop yourself. I am not joking - do not take stuff to eat..every sound during this is repulsive.
Justice League (2017)
Atrocious film which is better then most DC films
Like catching malaria after you have survived ebola, Justice League has the DC Universe trending upward.
It is a Frankenstein of a film, obviously a bigger film lurks behind but it has been stitched together by Joss Whedon in post production, so we get some lighter touches but I think we all know who shot the 6 scenes where the camera is trained on Gal Gadot's butt. In 2017. In Hollywood...in the same year that Patty Jenkin's directed the exact same goddamn protagonist...it is beyond imagining.
Steppenwolf is the CGI villain. He is the worst superhero villain in a few decades. All the CGI is horrible. This film had a budget of 300 MILLION...
The cast are not bad and I give them a break looking at the screenplay and direction. Ezra Miller is good as The Flash and Jason Momoa at least brings a different energy to the crew of heroes. The rest look like they are trying to survive a death march. The exception is Amy Adams, pay her everything to keep being Lois Lane.
This is just insulting but like a 7 year old playing the flute, I have given one extra star for trying.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor is uneven but just so much fun
This film is ridiculous.
Lets get that out of the way but really any film with Thor in it let alone any of the Avengers is by definition, batshit crazy.
The exception here is that Taika Waititi embraces the Crazy, he fosters it and it does pay off. Remember how bad Thor: Dark World was? Probably not, because like most traumatic incidents you have lost the memory. Where could Thor take a standalone film that was enjoyable and still maintain a link to the Avengers universe? Planet Hulk is where! The Marvel alchemists have taken numerous strands of lore and swirled them together to concoct the breathiest and most colourful confection in their short history. Guardians was funny because the characters were funny while Thor is funny because he is in on the joke.
The problem then becomes one of tone. The film is peppering so many jokes and self deprecating nods that the structure becomes uneven which is most seen when the film creaks into Hero mode...you can hear the gears grinding.
I am not a huge fan of Hemsworth but he is his most likable here and seems reinvigorated once that famous haircut takes place. The rest of the cast is amazing: Blanchett, Goldblum, Ruffalo, Hopkins and so on. There is just not enough time to go round. Cate Blanchett is brilliant as Hela and totally absorbs the screen whenever she is on. The character is underwritten and she still wrings something memorable from it.
The film looks fantastic and most especially when they save their money shots for the big battles. Waititi employs a specific colour palette at times such as the Valkyrie battle which resembles a moving Renaissance painting and it is magnificent.
The big question will be whether audiences buy into Waititis' gamble. Will they laugh at the NZ accents as Korg says "Bro" and "New Doug"? If they do this will be a huge hit and a shot in the arm for the extended Marvel universe.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Balde Runner 2049 extends the original vision
After the farce of two cinematic disasters coming from the Alien Universe in recent years, it was with great trepidation that I watched the extension of Ridley Scott's other great work, Blade Runner. Can I just say: In Denis Villeneuve, I trust!!! Villeneuve does what only the most assured filmmaker can do, especially when playing in someone elses sandbox, and that is to not overplay his hand. The film grammar, world look and film score are all echoes of the original work. Where Villeneuve extends the reach of the work is in the storytelling: though a sequel, it is an evolution of the themes of the original. Where the first film examined what it meant to be human, this film looks at what defines Life, sentient life, itself. The film opens with an expository scroll down and then the introduction of "K" (Ryan Gosling) who we know within the first minute is a new type of replicant who hunts down older models, the Nexus models once built by Tyrell. These new replicants created by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) are a different breed. After the various insurrections, Replicants were banned till Wallace proved he can make them with no free will, they will follow any order. It soon becomes apparent that something else is at play and a greater mystery unfolds with the eventual collision between the events of the original Blade Runner and the new world. Villeneuve is at the top of his game. He is one of the two or three greatest visual storytellers working today. He is helped on every front by the interesting script which is written by Hampton Fancher who wrote the first script for the original Blade Runner before being famously replaced and Michael Green who has a mixed filmography of great films and complete disasters. Here we have storytellers who embrace the fundamentals of the first work but resist just telling the same story and have mapped out similarly intriguing territory. The film looks stunning under the eye of Roger Deakins, simply the finest Director of Photography there is. He has chosen a red, murky palette which mimics the dust storms which swamped Sydney, Australia in 2009 and this gives both a taste of ecological disaster and a nod to the strong choices in the original. The cast is very good across the board. Gosling who has often come across as not quite human, is perfectly cast as a replicant. However, much like Ford in the original he struggles at times in selling the pathos of his character. Ford, on the other hand, is great as the world weary Deckard. The Fordrennaisance continues as he seems to embrace his newfound maturity and freedom. The main scene stealer is Ana de Armas, who plays Joi, an Artificial Assistant who uses holograms to communicate with her owner. The rest of the cast are very good from Jared Leto to Robin Wright but the unfair comparison is to the original Blade Runner where everyone was magnificent. Throughout the film, we see examples of technology aping the human experience from dumb holograms to AI's like Joi, to replicants and they all seek something more. The film tries to define what it means to be alive: to be organic and to be able to reproduce. But, more than that – to be human is to be in awe of the Universe. To love and to cry and to be lost in the majesty of the cosmos. A machine is incapable of this. To illustrate this, Villeneuve will often show the technology on the edge of an evolution to a higher scale of consciousness and at that point it will often interact with the most primal of materials: water. Whether rain, tears or in the end scene, snow, it is at these junctures that humanity is expressed, even if only in that moment. It would be remiss to not talk about the ending. Scott invented TechNoir which borrowed the tropes of a detective novel and set them in a cyber future and that is the same here. K wonders whether he might be of a new breed of replicant, one organically reproduced, not made and in a mirror of the first the evidence for and against this conjecture hinges on the artificial memories of the replicants. I do find it more than interesting that the final scenes have both snow falling on a character and being created in a memory lab simultaneously. The implication meaning that there might be more to K then we are originally lead to believe.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Theron brilliant as action star of Atomic Blonde
It is not often that an actor is ushered into the pantheon of great action stars, on top of that, the list is infinitesimally small when it comes to women. All Hail, Charlize Theron. The film is based on a graphic novel called "The Coldest City" which has the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as the backdrop to a spy thriller. The cool factor both in tone, in the illustrations, the Cold War itself are all filtered through to the film. It has a steely blue undertone, similar to the work of Michael Mann, which allows the city and the cast to somehow become a hyper-realised version of itself. David Leitch, who built his action chops as a stuntman for decades before breaking out as co-director of "John Wick", knows exactly what type of film he is making. Leitch borrows the tropes of the spy thriller but uses John Wick hyperviolence when the film ups a gear. However, as opposed to the Wick films there is an actual story, with a convoluted plot as befitting a spy thriller and here the film struggles at times. From the 80's soundtrack, to Charlize Theron's thigh high boots and McAvoy's punk buzz cut, this film nails the style of the graphic novel. It looks beautiful. Layered on top is the spy plotting but the cream are the action sequences. There is one scene in the middle of the film which runs for five or so minutes as one take ( sure there are some sneaky cuts) but it is impressive choreography and really levitates this film to the highest level of action films. The film is in every way Charlize Theron's as MI6's Lorraine Broughton. The training is evident in how her body looks and moves – all ivory skin, tendons and elbows. There is an intelligence akin to the Bourne films in how practical these amazing people are in using everything around them as a possible weapon. The cast elevates Theron with nice performances from James McAvoy as David Percival, the English head of the East Berlin office and superiors played by John Goodman and Toby Jones. The scene stealer is Sofia Boutella as the French operative, Delphine LaSalle but all fade around the Amazonian. SPOILERS
The film has attracted criticism for not making sense but I think once you piece together that Theron is a TRIPLE agent posing as a MI6 and KGB operative but actually working for the CIA it makes more sense. Broughton was in Berlin BEFORE the film began and kills Gascoigne (her lover) because he is close to getting the list of agents which lists her as Satchel and not only will it blow her cover but the CIA have ordered her to get it for them. This is not completely successful and I can understand people getting confused. A murky film can leave a bad taste but though the story could have been told better the film itself does make sense. There is no decision to be made here. If you like action films especially the Wick and Bourne universes then this film has to be seen. However, I would also argue that anyone looking for a different type of action hero should also check out the amazing work of Ms. Theron.
Nolan delivers the most beautiful war film in decades
Christopher Nolan who might be the most consistently celebrated director who makes both art and money has delivered a masterpiece. Nolan has envisaged the disaster at Dunkirk as a window on the experience of war. This is not a classic war film. With sparse dialogue, even less blood and no Germans, Nolan has given a prism which explores the battle through the lens of a thriller. Throwing away all the usual tropes the viewer is put into the film from the first scene and then spends 108 minutes surviving. The director most often compared to Nolan is Kubrick and here we can see an echo of "Paths of Glory", Kubrick's second and famously anti-war film set in the trenches of the Great War. Nolan takes a wide angle, a cold eye and sets it to form a triptych: three stories unfold and converge. One from the air, the sea in the form of the Home Fleet and finally from the land with the soldiers trapped on the beach. There is no overarching narrative or rhetorical flourishes but just the image and soon a magical thing occurs. The sheer humanity of the events takes your stomach and grips it as tightly as any thriller has and does not let go till the film is over. Nolan is helped immensely on all fronts. The score by Hans Zimmer is always reminding you of time. Time spent in the wrong direction can be fatal, even looking at the sun can be the difference as you hear the notes of a watch ticking away. The film is absolutely glorious. I mean arguably the most beautiful war film since "Apocalypse Now" and Hoyte Van Hoytema (who worked on "Interstellar") has created the best aerial combat I have ever seen. I am not sure how it could have been filmed. The entire vista looks real, the battleships are British and there is nary a CGI effect though the one downside is you never get the impression that there are hundreds of thousands trapped there. This is the best sound effect editing I have ever heard. These are craftsmen at the zenith of their art. The cast is impressive. Totally British as insisted by Nolan, the ensemble includes Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance. Fionn Whitehead is a newcomer and the closest to an audience surrogate but even there it is only because we meet him in the first scene. Everyone is strong but it is Rylance who steals the film. His nobleness in impossible times serves as a sharp contrast to modern views on duty and sacrifice. Nolan has delivered a piece of art which is hard to review. Like all great art there is a visceral experience required. There is little sentimentality and it invokes intimacy despite being on a huge canvas. It is the work of someone at their peak.
Baby Driver (2017)
Best fun film of 2017
Edgar Wright is a modern alchemist. He is able to use all of his great technique to confect these cinematic sensations from hybridising horror and working class comedy in "Shaun of the Dead" to mashing a rom com with a video action film in "Scott Pilgrim" and finally with his latest chimaera, a musical, yes you read that right, with a top notch heist thriller. That unholy mixture is breathtakingly arrogant and he just about pulls it off. The plot is the stuff of a million genre flicks. Good guy criminal is forced to do jobs and work with people he doesn't like but he will soon be out. Sure, the focus is on the getaway driver but even that we have seen from Ryan O'Neal in "The Driver" all the way to a few years ago and Ryan Gosling in "Drive". The twist it is not about the plot. Wright's genius is the prism through which he tells that story and it will come as a shock that much of this film is closer to "Singing in the Rain" then "Heat". So we must talk about his cast because if anyone can put an ensemble together it is Edgar Wright. If you look at all his earlier films there are breakout performances scattered everywhere. It is easy to forget that he selected Brie Larson to play Envy Adams who five years later would be receiving an Oscar for Best Actress. In this film he has plucked out Ansel Elgort as the eponymous driver and what a find. I recognised Elgort from the Divergent films but in this he is a charisma explosion and moves so silkily that I would be surprised if he hadn't trained as a dancer. Elgort is paired with Lily James who I thought was underwhelming in the BBC production of "War and Peace" but here she is great concoction of innocence and hometown sex appeal. And what a voice! The rest of the cast is a who's who of fantastic actors: Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal. Jon Hamm and newcomer Eiza Gonzales do a twist on Bonny and Clyde and steal all their screen time. This is easily Hamm's best film role of his career and shows he has some post Mad Men life in him. In the end, it all comes back to Wright. The film is, especially at the beginning, too postured and not as organic as "Scott Pilgrim" but I think like "LaLa Land", Wright had to establish what type of world we are entering. It might explain that a lot of people are saying they are enjoying the second viewing more than the first. In my experience, it took almost the first act for the film to find its feet and then it exploded as a mixture of music, great editing and clever amalgams on known film tropes. This is one of those films that cannot be analysed: see it and experience the wall of sound and action that is Edgar Wright and "Baby Driver".
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Spider Boy - John Hughes meets comic book action
Welcome home SpiderBoy! It is not often that a film that is a reboot of a reboot in a universe pumping out about three films a year somehow, improbably, fills you with movie joy. The difficulty level that Jon Watts faced as one of six writers and with a scant directing resume would have been enough to (and has) destroyed more seasoned professionals and yet the team has produced a film brimming with teen angst, recklessness, heroism – The Breakfast Club for superheroes. The film is set just after the Battle of New York where we see alien artifacts are being harvested and some for nefarious purposes. Jump ahead a few years and Peter Parker/Spiderman played by Tom Holland is extremely keen to prove himself and get on the Avengers team and out of high school. Soon he becomes aware of a villain called The Vulture, ironically played by The Birdman Michael Keaton, who has assembled a gang of high tech thieves. All this is played against the travails of detention, teen crushes and being caught half way between kid and adulthood. Let's start with Jon Watts. I am actually amazed that he got this gig. I have never seen a Jon Watts' film though I have had his horror film "Clown" on my list for a while now. Still five films and then a 175 million dollar blockbuster – that must have been some pitch! There were six or so writers which normally is a death knell for any film. Very hard for a film to have a consistent tone with that many voices but Spiderman HC does it. I suspect it is because we have two films being made – one, a by the letter superhero film and the other a teen comedy. The writers look like they stayed on their respective fields with Watts and Kevin Feige (the Marvel ringmaster) keeping it all on point. Watts deftly keeps all the balls in the air and has a career about to rocket after this achievement. Watts was helped greatly by some impressive casting. Remember, Tobey Maguire and Tom Holland are only a year apart but Maguire acted like he was 35 and Holland looks all of the 15 that his Peter Parker represents. Watts needs to buy the Russo brothers a drink for casting Holland in "Captain America: Civil War" as he lights up the screen as a totally credible teenager. He is just reckless enough, just heroic enough, shy but with ego – he really sells the role. Scene stealer Jacob Batalon as his best friend Ned gives great comic relief but also does a lot of heavy lifting in making the teen universe seem real. The rest of the cast are brilliant. I really mean this – nearly every small role has a great young actor or comedian. Matthew Starr as a teacher, Donald Glover as a small time crook (even funnier as Glover once lobbied to be Spidey), Bokeem Woodbine, Hannibal Burress even Jennifer Connelly as Karen, Spidey's Costume AI. Still it is a truism that holds that the true measure of a superhero film is the villain against which he battles. Michael Keaton plays Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. This is an interesting portrayal because he is a post Trump villain. Whenever he does something evil he can justify it as being put down by the big guys. I suspect people would vote for him. His group of villains are also relatively small scale. He is more Tony Soprano then The Godfather. Keaton is having a great mid-career renaissance and he has that excellent range that allows him to pivot between scenes, he never becomes cartoonish. This is an agile movie which for the most part is played for small stakes. The fact that the viewer is as worried about The Vulture as whether Peter will get to the Homecoming dance says a lot about the skill at play here. The film does suffer from being one set piece too long. At 133 minutes it would have been better served at coming in 15 or so minutes shorter. These are quibbles in the end because I laughed and aahed all the way through it. The Washington Monument set piece is beautifully composed mixing CGI and practical effects for maximum fun. This film owes just as much to John Hughes as it does to Sam Raimi and for me that is a heavenly cocktail.
Get Out (2017)
Brilliant Horror Satire - Spoiler Break halfway down
This is a masterpiece. Time and time again, genre cinema has proved that it so agile and quick that it can represent a society in a way more prestige cinema might take decades to achieve. That Jordan Peele should achieve this as a first time writer and director is beyond amazing especially considering his lurch from comedy to horror. The premise is a chestnut, awkward and prone for satirical mischief: an interracial couple going home to meet the parents. We are introduced to Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) who are discussing their first visit to meet Rose's parents. Already, you have shades of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" as Chris openly asks whether Rose has informed them of his colour. That is all I can say
.this is one of those rare films where any analysis of the film will completely ruin the experience but from the trailer we all know we are headed into disturbing waters. The cast is filled out by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford playing Rose's parents Missy and Dean Armitage. They have one other son, Jeremy, played by Caleb Landry Jones. The other main role is Rod Williams played by LilRel Howery who is Chris' best friend. They are all great though I think Howery steals every scene he is in. Peele does some brilliant work here. The most obvious influence is "The Stepford Wives" which also sat in the uneasy position of horror and satire especially on modern white sensibilities. However, more than that Peele is assured in how he moves the camera. Often he is more scientist, capturing the anthropology of the scene and helping the audience observe and slowly put together the bigger threads in play. That Peele as a comedian is adept at cutting through the hypocrisy of society for laughs is evident as he weaponises it to cut through in a much more horrific sense. This is most clearly seen in how the point of view of all is put forward - Peele clearly has traversed both worlds. I am going to put a break in here. Only read below if you have seen the film.
So the film becomes a horror film because the Armitage's have perfected a method of hypnotising young black people and then having wealthy white people have brain tissue inserted into their brains giving them control of the body and a form of immortality. They even bid for the best bodies in a scene that could be plucked out of a slavery history book. It is how Peele frames this horror conceit that makes it magisterial. Peele is playing 4 dimension chess here because the evil white protagonists (and one random Asian guy) are all upper middle class non racist (in their minds) Obama style Democrats. There are no rednecks, hillbillies or skinheads here. In fact, the reason they are choosing, in the main, young black men is that they are fitter, better genetics, sexier and in some ways cooler. Though the implication is that those assets have been wasted. That with all those advantages these men should have achieved more, and now will, as the gifted body will have a white master. The film also plays with the concept of minority fear in a majority white society. At all times in the film except for the blacks portrayed in uniform, the black characters are always watching their next step, and how it will be perceived. This has a ringing effect considering Peele wrote this as the Ferguson shooting and Black Lives Matter movement started to take hold in the US. Peele is on record that he even changed the ending as he needed to give some hope. His previous ending showed a typical white policeman shooting an innocent black man scenario that he now found too bleak. At this stage I just want to say I found Allison Williams breathtaking. Not only was she the scariest her outright psychopathic and controlling personality shown in the fantastic milk drinking, cereal eating, NBA Tinder scrolling will be legendary. Hopefully, her agent gets her a rom-com because it is hard for me to even look at her now and not be terrified. Not much more can be said. Peele has done the impossible. A great horror film which has you thinking weeks afterward. Those films are rare indeed and soon become legendary.
The Mummy (2017)
Major misstep in trying to establish Dark Universe
The Dark Universe is established with a half mummified creature whose ambitions are so insane that through the power of self-belief and religious zealotry it is able to defy the Universe itself. And there is also a Mummy. When the Dark Universe was announced, I was worried and excited. I loved the Universal monsters of the 1930's and thought that with proper cultivation they could hearken back to the classic monsters but also harness modern CGI to revolutionise those stories. My fear was by announcing a Universe before establishing even one film that would mean an awful lot of world building, lathering's of exposition would be needed so that later films would be able to click together. Just like the DC films my worst fears have been realised. The brief plot line is that Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) embraces her dark ambitions and is mummified alive. Centuries later her tomb is discovered by some treasure hunters, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and a new evil is released on the world. Entangled in this mess is archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and Dr. Jekyll (his name kinda gives away his character trajectory) played by Russell Crowe. The film is egregiously average. The plot line considering it is building a Universe is not that bad. It updates the monster cleverly. The creature design and Boutella's acting are some of the better aspects of the film. Unfortunately, it is never sure what type of film it is. I note that it had six writers and that seems to be in the DNA of the film. One scene will work and even be quite good, only for it to lurch considerably in tone the next as if it is now "Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy" and then shift back. I can't help but think Alex Kurtzman was not the person to helm this film. Notorious for films which make money but which are braindead notably a couple of Transformer films, he has not got the directing chops to patch the shifts. If only a Joss Whedon or Patty Jenkins was on tap. The acting apart from Boutella and a strong sidekick performance from Johnson are laughably woeful. Wallis who was quite good in "Peaky Blinders" is a cypher here and has absolutely no chemistry with Cruise. Russell Crowe hams it up again as if he is going to break into a song from Les Miserables but the worst are the undead eyes of lead puppet Cruise. For such a legendary charisma machine, there is just nothing there and he seems to know it. I almost felt bad for him
So many bad decisions have been made that I am not sure how this can be fixed as I am sure many characters will submerge and re-appear across the Dark Universe when it might be better if all stayed entombed.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Another ludicrous prequel from Scott
If you were bitterly disappointed by the first prequel "Prometheus", get in line for a second helping of ridiculous plotting, a non descript crew and shoehorning of chunks of Alien lore so that Scott can keep the prequel train chugging along.
The colony ship "Covenant" is waylaid by unlikely events leading to it investigating a signal from an unknown planet leading to a trail from the original film. The film has the trademark Scott polish and looks beautiful but that is not enough to save it.
This has some of the laziest writing (both plotting and dialogue) I have ever seen but especially in such a legendary franchise. Ridiculous chain events lead to the crew gambling on visiting this strange planet and it is galling to say the least that any semblance of common sense let alone exploration training is lost within seconds. No spoilers in saying that you might want to have a breathing helmet on when first landing on a new planet. I love a good roller-coaster but this just made me angry.
As for the cast, they are done no favours by Scott. Rewatch "Alien" or "Aliens" and you will see textbook examples of how to quickly introduce a team of characters which separates their personalities and moves the story forward. Unfortunately, the heroine is Dany Branson played by Katherine Waterston who was the worst aspect of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and if anything she is worse in this. Her acting persona is a charisma vortex and of course that is a heavy anchor for the rest of the ensemble.
The shining light is Michael Fassbender who as a synthetic can be seen in various roles with flashbacks and so on. Every time he is on screen, the film intensifies and is interesting for that heartbeat. An interesting short film would be just the philosophical discussions he holds in this film.
The rest of the film is standard B grade shoot 'em up but because everyone acts so stupidly you actually end up barracking for the xenomorphs. In fact the pivotal scene which is halfway through the movie is so ludicrous that people laughed in my screening (Think Jedi)
Scott was lambasted for the ponderous "Prometheus" so he has doubled down on the action setting up a Gothic palace which needs to be explored but as with any Poe poem or Shelley novella, things can only lead to the macabre despite any action the characters take. This film has more in common with Texas Chainsaw then the Alien franchise.